October 18, 2016

Remembering the "Prison Angel"; Mother Antonia Brenner*


By Larry Peterson

Can a Catholic woman get married and divorce twice, give birth to eight children with two different men, become a nun and eventually found a new religious order? The answer is Yes! In fact, this same woman would, on Mother’s Day in 1990, walk the stairs alone to present the gifts to Pope John Paul II for the Mass he was offering during his visit to Mexico and, in return, receive his blessing.  After all, with God, all things are possible.

This is about Mother Antonia Brenner who came to be known as the “Prison Angel” of La Mesa Prison.  Mother Antonia died three years ago on October 17, 2013. As we think of her life I just thought I should write a few words about this amazing woman. I believe history will show that this woman was one of the greatest among Catholic women of the late 20th  and early 21st century.

Mary Clarke was born in Beverly Hills on December 1, 1926. Her dad, Joe Clarke, was a successful businessman and Mary and her two siblings grew up surrounded with affluence and the glitz of the movie world. Their neighbors included luminaries such as William Powell, Hedy Lamarr and John Barrymore.

Joe Clarke had a deep love for all people. No matter how good life was for his family he made sure his kids were always taught to help the less fortunate. That desire to help others, nurtured by her father, would blossom in Mary and was destined to explode. However, before the "explosion" Mary embarked on a circuitous life journey.

Mary married at 18 and had three children, the first dying shortly after birth. That marriage ended in divorce. As a divorcee, Mary now felt distanced from her Catholic upbringing.  She married again, this time in a civil service in Las Vegas. It was to a man named Carl Brenner. She and Carl had five children together but ultimately, that marriage also ended in divorce. No matter, God “writes straight with crooked lines” and apparently the Holy Spirit had his eye on Mary Clarke Brenner her entire life. He was about to shower His grace all over His daughter.

Mary became more and more involved in charity work. In 1965 she met a priest by the name of Father Henry Vetter. He took her along on a delivery of food, medicine and clothing to the prisoners at La Mesa Penitentiary in Tijuana. The plight of the prisoners at La Mesa (considered among the worst in Mexico) impacted her greatly and as time went by her growing compassion and love of neighbor would become focused on these people. They would become her specialty, her ministry, her purpose in life.    

Mother Antonia Brenner in cell comforting inmate
Mary Brenner spent the next ten years traveling back and forth to La Mesa Prison bringing needed supplies but mostly her love and mercy. Her presence became well known and the prisoners, both men and women, began looking forward to her visits. They began calling her “La Mama”. The warden even gave her accommodations so she could sleep over.

Mary took the name of Antonia (after her mentor, Monsignor Anthony Bowers) and became Mother Antonia Brenner. She sewed together a nun’s habit, put it on, and went to see Bishop Leo Maher of San Diego. She got down on her knees and told him her story. He had heard all about her and gave her his blessing, validating her ministry. She would even start a new order, Eudist Servants of the Eleventh Hour  an order for women 45 and older who wanted to serve the less fortunate. In addition to the blessing from Bishop Maher she also received the blessing of Bishop Juan Jesus Posadas of Tijuana. She had church authorization for her ministry from bishops in two separate countries.

After her kids were grown, Mary gave away her belongings, moved out of her home in Ventura and headed to La Mesa Prison. She had received permission to live there. Her new home was to be a 10' by 10' cell in the women’s section of the prison. She would live as any other inmate, sleeping in her concrete cell and having only cold water and prison food. The amenities in her room included a Crucifix on the wall, a Bible, Spanish dictionary and a hard, prison bed. In the morning, she lined up with the other prisoners for roll call. This was to be her home for the next thirty-two years.

"La Mama" also became known as "The Prison Angel",  She moved freely among the drug traffickers, thieves, murderers, rapists and others, touching cheeks and offering prayers. Many of these people were among the most violent and desperate of both men and women. Yet she happily walked with them and comforted and consoled them, dried their tears and held their heads between her hands as they were dying. She even single handedly stopped prison riots.

Mother Antonia Brenner truly saw the face of Christ in each and every prisoner she came in contact with and extended mercy and love to them all. Why else would hardened criminals, some who had never loved or been loved, call the diminutive woman who hailed from Beverly Hills, "La Mama"? They loved her in return.

I believe that one day Mother Antonia Brenner will be canonized a saint. She was an example for each and every one of us showing us how to selflessly "love our neighbor" no matter who that  might be. Her life also shows all of us that no matter who or what we are or where we have been or what we have done, God is always calling us.

Mother Antonia, please pray for us, especially during this Year of Mercy
                                         Copyright ©Larry Peterson 2016

This article appeared in Aleteia.org on October 17,2016

October 12, 2016

Asia Bibi--Wife & Mom; Catholic/Christian and "Blasphemer"; Sentenced to Death for Loving Jesus


By Larry Peterson

 Asia Bibi is a Catholic wife,  mother of five and our sister in faith. She will stand before the Supreme Court of Pakistan during the month of October, 2016, and hear the final verdict as to whether or not she should be executed by hanging. You see, Asia has been convicted  of being a "blasphemer". She has been in prison for the past seven years.

Imagine being this woman. You have been living amidst the filth and squalor of a Pakistani prison. You wonder about your children You miss them so much. You need to hug them, touch them, feel their hair or just squeeze their hands(s). Then a distant memory floats to the forefront of your worn out mind. You remember that day in 2009...was it June..no, maybe August.  You remember being out in the field picking berries. There are other women working alongside you but...there is a difference. They are Muslim and, to them, you are "unclean". They despise you. You are a Catholic.

Asia Bibi & Children  courtesy gatestoneinstitute.org
These other women demanded you fetch them water from a nearby well. You were not their "equals" and did what you were told. You went to the well, filled a jug for the women and brought it back to them. But you made a mistake. You knew you could not drink from the same jug so you found an old tin can and poured water into it for yourself. You remember the momentary relief as the water slid down your throat..

Alas, using the dirty, rusted cup to drink from mattered not. A field hand angrily tells you that you are forbidden to drink the SAME water as a Muslim. You are already considered "unclean" because you are a Catholic/Christian. The other workers hurriedly gathered around you and started cursing you and your religion. Your faith must have been exploding in you because you defended it immediately. You summoned your resolve and remember saying, "I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ who died for the sins of mankind. What did your prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?"

The other women exploded with rage. You were beaten and arrested. Under the country's Sharia Law you are not equal to a Muslim so what you had to say was only considered "half" as important as what they had to say. Trying to defend yourself was an effort in futility. They hold you in a local jail for one year and then you are found guilty of blasphemy. Your sentence is death by hanging. You are shocked and horrified and helpless. Your husband is sickened and your children lost inside themselves. You can do nothing.

You are sent to prison and placed on death row. Five years later the Pakistani Supreme Court upheld the verdict. That was appealed and the hanging was put on hold. It has been announced that sometime during the middle of October, 2016, the High Court of Pakistan will render a FINAL verdict. Asia Bibi, Catholic "blasphemer ", lover and defender of Jesus Christ, will hear whether or not she lives or dies.

I cannot help but feel a deep affinity for Asia Bibi and all those who live under such incredibly hateful conditions.. After all, we are all part of the same spiritual family. They are people just like you and I. They love their spouses and children and their moms and dads. They get the flu and upset stomachs. They get rashes and toothaches and they have wants and desires. They want a nice home that is safe and secure. They would like to have a church they can go to without a fear of being killed or maimed for doing so. They just want to worship the God they love and have some peace in their lives. Yet, they are hated and despised. Why--because they are just like us. They are Catholic/Christian and believe in Jesus Christ.

This morning, I was able to drive over to my church and attend morning Mass. No fuss, no muss, no anxiety existed. No one mocked me. No one cursed me. On the contrary, going to Mass in America is a beautiful experience that is filled with peace and love. After all, we are free Americans allowed to practice our religion unencumbered (so far).

Asia Bibi is just one of thousands of our brothers and sisters in faith whose lives are in jeopardy at this very moment. Just like us, they love Jesus Christ. There is a glaring difference. We Americans  can pour another cup of coffee and say another prayer. Our brothers and sisters in faith, living in the lands of the persecuted,  can be brutally killed for doing the exact same thing.

The winds of secularism are growing stronger and stronger, blowing  against the doors and walls of America's churches. Behind those doors and walls our religious freedoms are still secure. Venturing outside those walls we find that across America those freedoms are being eroded right before our eyes. We had better be careful. As St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) said, The nation doesn’t simply need what we have. It needs what we are.”  

We must fight to stay who we are, inside and out.

 Please pray for our sister, Asia Bibi. She faces a horrible death because she loves Jesus. A different place or a different time, that could be any one of us.

                               Copyright ©Larry Peterson 2016

October 11, 2016

St. Marianne Cope--She Opened Up her Heart and Soul to the Most Avoided in Society--The "Lepers"*


By Larry Peterson

Maria Anna Barbara Koob was born on January 23, 1838 in Germany. The year after her birth her mom and dad emigrated to America settling in Utica, N.Y.  Devout Catholics, they joined St. Joseph's Parish near their new home. They also changed their name to Cope to become more "American". The years moved by and Maria's mom gave birth to nine more children. Life was never dull in the Cope household.

Maria felt a call to the religious life when she was very young. However, as the oldest of ten children, loyalty to family would take precedence over any personal ambitions she might have had. When her dad took ill and became an invalid, the eighth grader was forced to go to work in a textile factory to help support the family. Maria continued working in the textile mill for almost ten years.

St. Marianne Cope  courtesy  catholic.org
Maria's dad passed on in 1862 but by then some of her younger siblings were helping with the family's daily life, including finances. Maria, at 25 years-old, was finally able to pursue her dream. She entered  the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse, N.Y.  On November 19, 1862 she received the habit and became Sister Marianne.

Sister Marianne had wanted to be a teacher but for some reason began doing administrative work. She quickly found herself appointed to the governing boards of  her religious community and helped establish the first two hospitals in central New York State. This was followed by becoming the nurse-administrator at St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse N.Y.

Sister Marianne had outstanding organizational and leadership skills but she also possessed a deep and almost natural affinity for those considered marginalized and treated as "outcasts". She was even criticized for her special devotion to those who needed help the most. It was also obvious to others that the Holy Spirit moved within her.

By 1883 she was the Provincial Mother in Syracuse and known as Mother Marianne Cope. One day she received an unexpected letter from a Catholic priest in Hawaii. He was asking for help in  managing schools and hospitals in the Hawaiian Islands. The letter was also clear that the main focus of the work would be with leprosy patients. Mother Marianne's life purpose had just been laid before her.

Filled instantly with an overwhelming desire to help those who were not only seriously ill but also marginalized and rejected, she wrote back, "I am hungry for the work and I wish with all my heart to be one of the chosen ones, whose privilege it will be to sacrifice themselves for the salvation of the souls of the poor Islanders.... I am not afraid of any disease, hence, it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned lepers." *

Today leprosy (real name, Hansen's Disease) is readily curable. In 1980 there were over 5 million cases worldwide. In 2012 that number was down to 189,000. In the past 20 years, 16 million people have been cured of this disease and only 200 cases are reported in the United States each year. But in 1883, when Mother Marianne and her followers arrived in Hawaii, that was not the case. Leprosy was widespread and dreaded as extremely contagious. 

People with Hansen's Disease were avoided and prohibited from many public places. When Mother Marianne and her six companion nuns arrived in Honolulu, they were directed to the Kaka'ako Branch Hospital in Oahu. This served as a receiving station for leprosy patients from all over the islands.

 Within a year they had founded the Kapi'olani Home for the purpose of caring for the homeless children of Hansen Disease patients. The most severe cases were sent to the island of Moloka'i and placed in the settlement known as Kalaupapa. This is where Father Damien was working. Sister Marianne met the renowned priest in 1884. He was still in good health.

Father Damien (now St. Damien of Moloka'i) was diagnosed with Hansen's Disease in 1886. When Mother Marianne heard that Father Damien's presence was unwelcome in so many places she began to tend to him herself.

Things fell into place when a new government came into power in 1887. They asked Mother to PLEASE open a home for women and girls at Kalaupapa on Molokai.  She joyfully embraced the request knowing that her prayers had once again been answered. In addition, she could now be closer to the withering, Father Damien, who she cared for until his death in April of 1889. 

Mother Marianne and her assistants, Sister Leopoldina Burns and Sister Vincentia McCormick opened Bishop House for women and girls and promised Father Damien they would run his Boy's Home for him after he was gone. They did just that. She also taught her Sisters that their primary duty was "to make life as pleasant and as comfortable as possible for those of our fellow creatures whom God has chosen to afflict with this terrible disease...".** 

Mother Marianne passed away on August 9, 1918. She was canonized a saint on October 21, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.

St. Marianne Cope, please pray for us all.

*This article also appeared in Aleteia magazine on 10/09/2016

**Both quotes were taken from the Official Vatican website: Biography; Marianne Cope

                                                    Copyright©Larry Peterson All Rights reserved 2016

September 29, 2016

Sara Salkahazi...Another Holocaust Victim Who Will Always Be a Shining Star*


By Larry Peterson

Embedded among the thousands of shining stars who have been elevated to the rank of Canonized Saint in the Catholic Church are those I call, "hidden gems". These are the  chosen folks more or less unknown to most Catholics. For me, when I decide to start looking for them, it is sort of like stopping at a yard sale. You never know what you may find. Well, I just stopped at a "cyber yard-sale". I do not remember the address and it cost me nothing but some time to look around. Lo and behold, I found another "hidden gem". Her name is Blessed Sara Salkahazi.

Image result for sara salkahazi
Blessed Sara Salkahazi   courtesy Aleteia .org
Sara was born in Hungary in 1899 and, from a young age, was a fiercely independent and strong willed girl.. Her brother described her as a "tomboy" who wanted to do things her way. The first thing she did as a young woman was to become a teacher.  She also began to write articles about the poor.

However, she did not like it that women were treated differently than men in society. She wanted to know why so she left teaching and took a job as a bookbinder's apprentice being relegated to doing the dirtiest and hardest work. She thought that if she did a man's job she might understand them better. She also continued writing about the disenfranchised.

Sara then went to work in a millinery shop selling and making women's hats. From there her life slowly morphed into one of a journalist and soon she was an editor for the newspaper put out by the Christian Socialist Party which focused mostly on women's issues. At this point in Sara's life she was not religious at all. In fact, she was mostly agnostic bordering on atheism.

But then Sara came into contact with  the Sisters of Social Service. She felt a strong calling to be part of their group and asked how she could join. The Sisters of Social Service was a fairly new order dedicated to charitable, social and women's issues. Sara, a fast talking, chain-smoking bastion of unbridled energy, was rejected as a possible candidate. She would not be deterred.

Sara kept trying to join the Sisters. She even quit her smoking habit which was more of a challenge for her than she ever imagined. Her perseverance paid off and in 1929, at the age of 30, Sara was admitted to the Sisters of Social Service. Her motto was from the Prophet Isaiah: "Here I am! Send me!" (Is 6:8b). Sara Salkahazi's agnosticism had completely disappeared in her own rear-view mirror.

 Sister Sara, a bundle of energy,  began organizing work for Catholic Charities, editing and publishing a women's journal, managing a religious bookstore, teaching and supervising a shelter for the poor. Sara was then asked by the Bishops of Slovakia to organize the National Girls' Movement. Her life was now busier than she could have ever imagined. More responsibilities were on their way. Some of the sisters in the order thought she was "showing off".

In one year Sara received 15 different assignments, from teaching at the Social Training Centre to cooking for the needy. She became exhausted, not only physically but spiritually. Sara's greatest challenge was dealing with the fact that the order deemed her "unworthy" to renew her temporary vows. Sara was heartbroken. She prayed and prayed and decided to "stay the course" for the ONE who had called her. About a year later, her prayers were answered and  she renewed her vows.

Nazi ideology was sweeping Hungary and the Hungarian Nazi Party was gaining strength. They began to persecute the Jews. The Sisters of Social Service began to provide safe havens for Jewish people. Sister Sara opened the Working Girls' Home to help those being displaced. In March of 1944, German troops began their occupation of Hungary.

Sister Sara, realizing the extreme danger now confronting all Hungarians, offered herself as a victim-soul for her fellow Sisters of Social Service. Permission was needed to do this and she asked her superiors for it. It was granted and, at the time, they alone knew about her self-offering.

In 1943 Sister Sara began smuggling Jewish refugees out Slovakia. During the final months of World War II, she helped shelter hundreds of Jewish people in buildings belonging to  the Sisters of Social Service. As director of the Hungarian Catholic Working Women's Movement, she smuggled over one hundred to safety all by herself. Unfortunately, time was not on her side.

On the morning of December 27, 1944, Sister Sara and another sister were returning from a visit to another Girls' Home. Little did they know that a woman who worked in the house had betrayed them. They could see the Nazis standing in front of their house. They could have snuck away but Sister Sara, as the director, would not do so. They went into the house and were immediately arrested.

That night, Sister Sara and her friend, four Jewish women and one Christian worker,  were loaded onto vehicles and driven to the edge of the Danube. They were stripped and shot to death, their naked bodies being tossed into the freezing river. Miraculously, Sister sara's sacrifice must have been accepted by the Lord. None of the other Sisters of her community were ever harmed.

Sister Sara Salkahazi was declared "Righteous Among Nations" by Yad Vashem in 1969. On September 17, 2006,  Peter Cardinal Erdo, the Archbishop of Budapest, read a proclamation from Pope Benedict XVI  beatifying Sister Sara as "Blessed", the last step before Sainthood. The proclamation said, "She was willing to assume risks for the persecuted...in days of great fear. Her matryrdom is still topical... and presents the foundations for our humanity."

Blessed Sara Salkahazi, please pray for us.

*An edited version of this article appeared in Aleteia on Sept 12, 2016

                                                   ©Larry Peterson 2106 All Rights Reserved

September 19, 2016

“Abortion in Good Faith” and “Abortion Care”: These Phrases Are Nonsense


By Larry Peterson

I usually walk 45 minutes to an hour before dawn. A black sky, splattered endlessly with twinkling stars (sometimes accented by a full moon) allows a person to witness the handiwork of God’s creation up close and personal. It is (for me anyway) a magnificent and humbling sight. Perfection just does not happen. You know God is. The proof is right above you.

I get home and it is 5:40 and still black outside. I clean up, pour some coffee and open the newspaper. This is “my” time. I am seizing the moment. Today, staring at me is a full page, color ad from an organization called “Catholic for Choice”. The site is called, “Abortion in Good Faith”. The site wants you to “take the pledge”.  I breathe in, sip the coffee, and read on. The banner proclaims;

Public Funding for abortion is a Catholic social justice value.

Equal access to comprehensive healthcare, including reproductive health services, is a moral imperative.

The funny thing was, I was not appalled or even angry. Instead, I found myself actually shocked and scared. I was shocked at the seemingly Catholic nature of this ad and because I knew it was not. I was scared because it was so well done. Never doubt for a moment that the devil is the master of deceit and deception. He had prompted some fine work with this ad. It appeared to be, more or less, “Catholic”.

Pope Francis has said, “The right to life is the first among human rights. To abort a child is to kill 
someone who cannot defend himself.”

This tiny baby has a Right to Life
St. John Paul II said, “The cemetery of the victims of human cruelty in our century is extended to include yet another vast cemetery, that of the unborn.”

The preceding two quotes are from two Popes, one a canonized saint. They both were chosen to occupy the Chair of Peter and were entrusted with the Keys to the Kingdom. Their words express the teaching of Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ. We cannot claim to be Catholics and reject or ignore the teaching of the Church. We cannot be “cafeteria catholics”, picking and choosing what suits us. It is not about us. It is about following Christ and His teachings.

The Right to Life is our most basic and fundamental right as children of God and human beings. The miracles of science have shown us that a child is functioning in the womb at six weeks of development (I hate the word gestation). Usually, at that point, most women are just acknowledging what could be happening inside their womb. That is when testing begins.

Now is when the smooth pitch for “Abortion in Good Faith” kicks in. Here is the pledge:

The harsh restrictions on public funding for abortion mean that lower-income women don’t have access to abortion when they need it. Women who are dependent on Medicaid, employees of the federal and state governments, military members, and millions of others who are dependent on public funding simply don’t get the same kind of care as women with money. That is not Catholic.
Our campaign tells the stories of Catholics across the country who want meaningful, accessible reproductive healthcare choices for everyone, no matter how much money they have, where they live or what they believe.
We believe that everyone deserves access to abortion.
Join us. Sign the Pledge

Pledge Now
A young man named, John, who describes himself as a student community organizer and a Catholic says, “Denying someone abortion care, or any healthcare, simply because they cannot afford the procedure is an assault on their God-given dignity.” He never mentions that Planned Parenthood receives more than a half-BILLION dollars a year in taxpayer money and is the biggest abortion provider in the country.

“Abortion in Good faith”, “Abortion care”, “and an assault on our God- given dignity” are terms and phrases that do not even make any sense. Whatever is “abortion care”?  Emergency health care to save a life of a woman after a botched abortion would be “abortion care”. The sentence suggesting that denying someone an abortion is an “assault on their God-given dignity” is so far-fetched it rejects simple common sense.

Catholics who follow the tenets of their faith and all those who respect life are under serious attack in today’s secular driven environment. For some inexplicable reason many in today’s world have gone “meistic” (my word).  Self-gratification dominates the landscape. Self-sacrifice and saying no to one’s impulses and desires is mocked. We have heard the anti-Gods sing the song of, “Don’t worry-be happy, God loves you, wants you to enjoy yourself and would never punish you.”

God certainly does love us all and He wants us to enjoy eternity with Him in His home. But to get to His home there are rules to follow and consequences for not doing so. The “Abortion in Good Faith” ad is dangerous because so many Catholics are faith-deprived. They are easy prey to this genteel persuasion. They have lost the fortifications of a faith filled existence.

In today’s politically correct environment talking about our faith and Jesus and His church is not an easy thing to do.  But those of us who do believe and follow the guidance of Christ’s church have to somehow reach outside the doors of the church and grab some of those just looking in.

If all else fails maybe we could just get them to look up at a black, starlit sky. The proof is in the perfection right above them. Going back to basics may be a start.

                                      Copyright ©Larry Peterson 2016 All Rights Reserved

September 13, 2016

There is a Crisis of “Fatherless” Children in America; We Should Turn to St. Joseph for Help


By Larry Peterson

September 8 was the birthday of our heavenly mom, Mary. On her birthday I also always think of Mother Mary’s husband, St. Joseph.  Without him there would be no birthdays to celebrate, either on September 8 or December 25. When God chose Joseph of Nazareth to be the foster-father of His only Son, He certainly knew what He was doing.

I call St. Joseph the “Shadow Saint”. That is because so little is known about him. He never spoke a word that was recorded. He never wrote anything that was saved on parchment.  It does not matter. This young man, a “righteous Jew” true to the law, was confronted with being engaged to a woman pregnant with someone else’s child. The reality was a terrible thing for him to bear.

But Joseph, who was only about 19, was a man of faith and God was with him. The penalty for his betrothed could have been death by stoning. Joseph would have none of that. His Mary would not be harmed. He loved her. So he took her in and married her. The child she carried would be his.

St. Joseph’s example of selflessness is something that needs to be talked about with admiration, respect and pride. It might be used as a guide for so many who have, in this secular driven world, fathered children and then abandoned them. 

There is a crisis of “fatherless” children in America. Next to the disrespect and disregard for unborn life, this could be the most dangerous threat to our society. “Fatherlessness” is an ongoing tragedy that can find its roots planted when Roe vs. Wade was passed in 1973. When the destruction of human life was “legalized” the downward spiral of respect for life followed.

There is a "father factor"  involved in virtually all aspects of American life today. Yes, many homes still have fathers but many children live in homes with absentee fathers and the societal effects are felt all across the spectrum of American life.

Statistics show that in fatherless homes poverty is 4X  higher than average, teen pregnancy increases by a multiple of seven (7), abuse and neglect are much more widespread and drug use is more 
You tube.com
prevalent. The list goes on and on.

St. Joseph could be used as a shining example for all men to emulate. He was poor, he was chaste and he respected women, especially his teenaged bride.  He was a man of faith and stayed true to the laws of God and man. Foremost in his life was his faith in God. This was his strength. This is what fortified him. This is what is missing in so many lives today.

Joseph of Nazareth is an example of how one should respect the law. We could explain to young people how he had to put his teenaged and pregnant wife on the back of a donkey and then walk over rocky, dusty roads for over 80 miles, a journey that probably took three days. And why did he do this? He did this because he was required to go to Bethlehem for the census. It was the law.

The story of young Joseph, taking his teenaged wife and baby boy, and escaping Bethlehem because King Herod wanted to kill his son, Jesus, would make any young person’s pulse amp up. The poor guy’s child was being hunted by Herod’s soldiers. His wife was recovering from child birth. He had to make it to Egypt. And he did…for his family. This is what a REAL man would do, or at least try to.

Joseph did whatever he had to do to take care of his wife and son. He worked hard to keep a roof over their heads, to feed them, clothe them, and protect them. He did not care about himself. His family came first, no matter what. He would have gladly died for them if necessary. He was a real MAN. His sacrifice and efforts for his wife and son allowed them to survive so that the salvific narrative would be fulfilled. We owe him so much.

His faith, courage, integrity and love of God resonate like the smashing of cymbals and the banging of drums for all of us to listen to. We need to follow his example. We need to celebrate his life. We need to honor his commitment to his responsibilities. We should cherish his devotion to family.

I realize the possibility of teaching about this quiet hero in public schools might be a ‘pipe dream’ but  I would hope Catholic schools would use him as an example for students to look up to and respect as a role model for what a husband and dad should try to be like.

St. Joseph, two thousand years after his death, is still the finest role model for, not only husbands and fathers, but for all men for all time.

                                     ©Larry Peterson 2016 All Rights Reserved

September 7, 2016

Confused About Gender Identity? Time to Listen to St. John Paul II.


By Larry Peterson

 “When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”
Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Venerable Archbishop Fulton J Sheen
In 1988 Pope John Paul II (now St. John Paul II) wrote an apostolic letter titled, Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women).  It identified the complimentary roles of men and women in line with the true philosophy of feminism. In doing so it demonstrated the ultimate concept of “giving of oneself”.  With the furor over “gender identity” raging it is time to revisit this document.

When I was growing up, it was the norm for a man to give a lady a seat on the bus or subway, to open doors for women, let them go first in line and so forth.  Women were considered special by men and that type of behavior was more or less accepted and even taken for granted.  Grant you, it was not a perfect world (there have always been the abusers and the misogynistic). However, for the most part, men afforded women a deferential courtesy simply because they were women.
Fast forward fifty years to the present-day.  Now a senior citizen, I found myself stepping ahead of two younger women as we all approached the entrance to a shoe store. My motive, as it was fifty years before, was to open the door for them.  I reached for the handle, looked at them and smiled. The first woman presented me with a scowl and said, “I can open the door myself.”

I realize that most ladies would have accepted my gesture and said, “Thank you” or smiled at me or simply accepted my showing them respect. Rather, this woman exuded a certain loathing toward me. She did not know me which meant I represented that part of humanity she despised.  It was a bit unnerving. Anyway, I let the door go and the woman who rejected my momentary “doorman” status, opened the door, held it open for her friend and they both entered. So be it.

A few seconds later a man and woman with a child approached the very same entrance. They were either a married or unmarried couple in their middle to late twenties. He was a few steps ahead of them.  He opened the door and walked in. He never looked back and let the door go. His companion grabbed the door as it began to close and led her child in.  I watched as she and her child caught up to him. 

It appeared so perfectly normal. They proceeded to walk together completely in sync about how they had interacted with each other entering the store.  The behavior was obviously taken for granted. I viewed it as rude.  I am obviously not a millennial. (Please—I know there are lots of polite millenials).

Those few moments in time were a reflection to me of how the crusade for complete equality has taken a seriously convoluted turn.  Here (in my opinion) are the irrefutable facts in the order as I see them:  1)Man and Woman are both human beings;  2)Man and Woman are unique unto their own sex;  3)Man and Woman complement each other;  4)Man and Woman can form a bond with each other which allows them to be able to unite together  as one couple;  this natural, complimentary bond completes the Human equation;  5) the answer to the human equation is New Life.

Therefore  it follows that;  Man and Woman NEED each other; Man and Woman need to respect each other for their uniqueness which allows them to ‘complete ‘ each other ; and finally, Man and Woman will cease to exist without each other.  This concept is generally mocked in a secular driven world.

In an age of social rudeness, I wonder it if might not be good for everyone to read Mulieris Dignitatem, just for the reminder that once upon a time, quaint-seeming social customs and courtesies were reflections of objective truths our society is now struggling with. Women deserve the dignity and respect that comes with being what God has created them to be. And men need to stand up for them. Imagine the possibilities.  It might be a purifying spring breeze blowing through the thrown-open windows of a stifling room.

From St. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem (1988), no. 18
"Parenthood - even though it belongs to both  man and woman - is realised much more fully in the woman, especially in the prenatal period. It is the woman who 'pays' directly for this shared generation, which literally absorbs the energies of her body and soul. It is therefore necessary that the man be fully aware that in their shared programme of parenthood he owes a special debt to the woman." 

                                        ©Larry Peterson 2016 All Rights Reserved

September 6, 2016

Reconnecting with an "Old Friend"..St. Therese, the "Little Flower"


By Larry Peterson

I have a small bedroom I converted into an office. Against the wall next to the closet is a narrow bookcase. It is about seven feet tall and one foot wide and has seven shelves. It is a great dust collector. Anyway, I had this sudden urge to “straighten up” the mess of papers and supplies I had so “neatly” placed on those shelves over the past few years.  I reached for the stack of old Writer’s Digest and Writer magazines on the third shelf. I placed one hand on top and tried to get my other underneath the stack. As if working together in synchronized dance, they all slid out and landed in a pile on the floor. I shook my head and chuckled. “Idiot,” .
We Catholics have included in our  extended Catholic family, the saints. Regarding the saints, there are many of these family members I have never even heard of. But, I do know that if I ever hear about one of them and seek them out, they somehow heed my call. For example, recently I “met” St. John of God for the first time and I had never heard of him. After reading about him, suffice it to say that this saint is no longer extended family for me. No sirree, he is now close family. I give him a ‘shout-out’ every day. (You can Google his name and a wealth of info comes up).
But what about an old family member who you were very close to and then, for some inexplicable reason, you more or less ignored them for many years? How do you finally get back together with them? I’ll tell you one way it can happen. They might hit you upside your head with a clear and unmistakable message. The cascading magazines were the start of a message. Guess who my message sender was?

It was St. Therese, the “Little Flower.” Many of you know what I am talking about. There is no subtlety when she is communicating with you. You can do like me though. You might begin to take her for granted and then begin to ignore her. SIGH–I did that, I admit it. Not anymore. She quickly got my attention.
St. Therese of Lisieux, "The Little Flower"
I should explain that my family and I have had some profound experiences courtesy of this great saint. In fact, I could write an entire short story right now about each of several miraculous things that have happened in our lives courtesy of St. Therese’s intercession. (I actually started to do that so I just deleted more than 400 words of “stuff” that was turning this into a novella.) “C’mon Larry, get to the point.” (That’s me talking to me.)
I bend down to begin picking up the magazines which are spread evenly across the floor. The mastheads are all showing as if they were put on display. In the middle of the pile I see a thin box. It does not belong. It is an interloper. I pick it up and see it is an old Xerox box, 8.5 X 11 by about one half-inch thick that held something called transparency paper. I did not even know what that was and then the end of this box popped open and a bunch of photos slid out. Guess whose 8 X 10 photo is on top looking right at me with this satisfied smile that made my knees get weak? Yup–you got it, St. Therese.
Two hours later that photo of my sweet, little friend (and your friend too), was in a very nice 12 X 15 bordered frame hanging on the wall a few feet away. Now I get to see her every day and she still is smiling gently. Since we have reconnected I have seen more ROSES than I can count. I found the booklet, “Mary Day by Day” in the garage (don’t ask me how it got there) which was Blessed Mother Teresa’s favorite book.

I did not end there. I received an e-mail from someone named Therese Martin (St. Therese’s real name) and, thanks to the encouragement of Elizabeth Schmeidler, my book is coming out in print in a few weeks. I also am reading Connie Rossini’s book, “Trusting God with St. Therese.” How timely is that? I might add that our stillborn daughter’s name is Theresa Mary and my granddaughter’s name is Theresa Marie.
I shall end this now by simply asking St. Therese to please pray for all of us and by promising her that she can stay smiling at me from up on that wall for the rest of my life.

                                      Copyright © Larry Peterson 2016

August 29, 2016

Krakow: The Pope and the Holocaust; I Am Proudly & Humbly Connected to Both*


By Larry Peterson

Mom died from leukemia way back in 1961. She had just turned 40 and, at the time, there were no cures, no chemo and no bone-marrow transplants. She was dead within six months of diagnosis.

We lived in the Bronx in a five floor walk-up. Grandma lived up on the fifth floor and we were down on the third.  Grandma gave up her apartment and moved in with us downstairs. I guess it was to help take care of the “little ones”; I was 15, Carolyn was 13, Danny was 11, Bobby was six and Johnny was two). But, it was not a good thing. Grandma hated dad because, for some bizarre reason, she decided he had killed her daughter and let him know it every chance she had.

I have no explanation for this nor will I ever. None of us do. Hey, we were kids, what did we know. Grandma’s grief was so intense that Dad could not handle it. It was just the way it was. Dad solved the problem by avoiding Grandma as much as possible. He just began hanging out in the local saloons which actually gave Grandma a real reason to yell at him.

On March 8, 1963, Grandma had a massive stroke. I saw her standing seemingly twisted in a body spasm and managed to drag her to the bed. I held her in my arms as she summoned the strength to say an Act of Contrition.  Looking me dead in the eye, she slowly slurred each word. Then we said an “Our Father” together. I was crying like a baby and so were my sister and brother, Danny. Dad was in the other room with Bobby and Johnny, waiting for the priest to show up. He was not crying.

When we finished praying she closed her eyes and became comatose. Father Quirk arrived and administered Last Rites. She died a few hours later in the hospital. That moment is etched forever in my brain’s “like it just happened” memory section.

What does Krakow and World Youth day have to do with all of that? Well, the first question that must be asked is, who was Grandma’s husband, our Grandpa? We were kids and had never asked. We never thought about it. That’s what kids do—take things for granted.

But then Mom was gone and Grandma was gone and Dad was drinking heavily. He died two years later. We had never gotten to the point of asking, “Hey, where is Grandpa?” Just like that it was too late. As adults we never found out—until four years ago. And now, with the Pope going to Krakow, Grandpa is in the forefront of my mind.  Krakow was Grandpa’s hometown.

Forced deportation from the Krakow ghetto, 1942   wikipediacommons
Our Mom had a brother, my namesake, Uncle Larry. He had been in the 8th Army Air-Force during World War II and his plane had been shot down on a bombing mission. He survived the war as a POW in the infamous Stalag 17. One time I asked him about his dad. He told me, “He died.” He never said another word.  That was that. Then we grew up, our folks were gone, and we lost contact as we began our own individual lives.

About four years ago I received a message on Facebook (kudos to Facebook) by none other than my long lost cousin, Vicki, Uncle Larry’s oldest. She had been on a “quest” and located me. Like dominoes perfectly colliding, my sister and brothers and cousins all reconnected. Now, to the point of this essay.

What follows may seem implausible but it is true and we have the documentation to confirm it. Vicki had been wondering about the missing Grandpa too. Her dad told her the same thing he had told me. Now he was gone. But she never stopped wondering and began a journey into the world of genealogy.  Lo and behold, she unraveled the mystery of the missing Grandpa.

Our grandma was an immigrant from Austria. A devout Catholic who never missed Mass, she married a man by the name of Isidore Schul. This was our grandfather. He was a Hebrew man from Krakow. Our maternal grandfather was Jewish. Shocker of shockers, the immigration papers and naturalization papers all confirm this. He made it to America in 1910.

We cannot understand how these two unlikely people connected, got married and had two children, one of them our own mother. But it was so and that mystery will never be unraveled. We dubbed our long, lost, mysterious grandfather, Grandpa Irv. He and grandma split up when Mom and Uncle Larry were young children. Grandpa Irv died in the Bronx in 1965. We will never know more than I revealed here.

But here is the thing. Cradle Catholics, we are also 25% Jewish. Grandpa Irv was the only one of his family to get to America. His parent’s names were Simon and Regina Schul. Simon and Regina are our great-grandparents. We do not know if they died in the Holocaust or before it began but apparently, from what Vicki discovered, Grandpa Irv’s siblings did. Probably in Ravensbruck but it might have been Auschwitz.

For me, personally, I am humbled by this connection. Jesus, the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, their  relatives, St. Ann, St. Joachim, and the apostles etc. were all Jewish. They were also the first Catholics. And today, as I write this, Pope Francis is in Krakow, Grandpa Irv’s hometown. I feel connected to it all and the Holocaust has a whole new meaning for me. It is all part of my heritage. My “own people” were killed there.  SHALOM

*This article also appeared in Aleteia. org on July 28,2016

                                     ©Larry Peterson 2016 All Rights Reserved

August 21, 2016

This College Kid Can Teach All of Us a Lesson*


By Larry Peterson

Most Catholics know of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The Society has been helping people in need for over 180 years. What most Catholics do not know is that St. Vincent de Paul is not the founder of the society. It is simply named after him because of his lifelong example of Christian charity. So, if it was not founded by St. Vincent de Paul where did it come from? How did it begin? What does St. Vincent de Paul have to do with it?

This is the very first paragraph from the Mission Statement of the St. Vincent de Paul Society

Inspired by Gospel values, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic lay organization, leads women and men to join together to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering in the tradition of its founder, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, and patron, St. Vincent de Paul.”

As you finish that paragraph you will notice the name of Frederick Ozanam. Please, take a moment to meet him here. He happens to be the founder of the oldest Catholic charity in the United States of America, The St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Bl. Frederick Ozanam (as young man) courtesy slideshare.net
Frederick Ozanam was born in Milan, Italy in 1813. He was the fifth of fourteen children of Jean and Marie Ozanam and only one of three who lived into adulthood. The family moved to Lyons, France and this was where Frederick grew up. As a teenager the young man was strongly influenced by the elitists of the day and his Catholic faith began to waiver. Frederick fought his doubts and overcame them. Vowing to consecrate himself to the defense of his faith he moved to Paris. He was 18 years old.

Frederick entered the University of Paris and took up journalism. He made friends with some other young Catholic men and soon he and a few of his new friends were involved in vigorous debates among secular students who challenged their preaching for lack of action.

The secularists told them that maybe ‘long ago’ the Catholic Church was a benefactor of humanity but those days were over. They were then asked what they were doing for people now? Frederick and his pals had no answer. They were laughed at and told they were hypocrites and basically did nothing but talk.

Frederick’s friend, Augustus Le Tailandier, asked Frederick if they might be able to put together a small group of Catholics to bring to action the Gospel message of “doing” instead of just ”talking”. Thus was born the “Conference of Charity”. This small group of Catholic/Christian young men who would not only devote themselves to helping the needy but would also advance Christian friendship.

Frederick had been submitting copy to Joseph Emmanuel Bailly who published the Tribune Catholique. He asked Mr. Bailly what he thought of their idea. He liked it so much that he joined Frederick and together they and four other young men held their very first meeting on April 23, 1833. Frederick Ozanam was 20 years old.

At that first meeting Emmanuel Bailly sent Frederick to see Sister Rosalie Rendu, a “Daughter of Charity”. Sister Rosalie became Frederick’s mentor and set him and his fledgling organization on its course by focusing them on doing “home visits” to those in need. This method of interaction was to become the primary way members would interact with those seeking their help. It remains that way to this day.

 In the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of her order, she also taught Frederick and his followers the techniques of helping the poor and the sick by being compassionate and always treating people with their God given dignity. They invoked St. Vincent de Paul as their patron and named the group, in his honor, The St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Frederick Ozanam and his friends could never have dreamed of the way the Society would grow. Within 12 years from its inception it had spread to Italy, England, Belgium, Scotland and the United States. The society chose St. Louis, Missouri as its headquarters in America and to this day the National Council of The St. Vincent de Paul Society USA is located there.

Today in the United States there are more than 160,000 trained volunteers who provide almost 12 million hours of volunteer service helping those in need. There are close to 750,000 members doing volunteer work all around the world. And all of it was started by a 20 year old kid responding to the graces showered down upon him and inspiring those around him to join in his quest to stop “talking and start doing”.

Frederick Ozanam was beatified on August 22, 1997 by Pope John Paul II. His mentor, Sister Rosalie, was beatified on November 9, 2003. We ask them both for their continued prayers for all of us, especially those in need.

*An edited version of this article appeared in Aleteia on August 15, 2016

                                 ©Larry Peterson 2016  All Rights Reserved